Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Sexual Precedent’s Effect on Sexual Consent Communication


Sexual consent is one’s voluntary, sober, and conscious willingness to engage in a particular sexual behavior with a particular person within a particular context. Sexual precedent theory posits that people believe that engaging in consensual sex at one point in time implies consent to later sexual encounters with that person. By assuming consent once a sexual precedent is set, people may rely less on communication cues. We sought to provide quantitative support for the claim that sexual precedent influences sexual consent in people’s sexual relationships. To capture variability across sexual experiences, we collected daily sexual behavior data from each participant (n = 84) over a period of 30 days. We found a curvilinear relationship between sexual history with a partner and how people perceived consent during sexual activity with that partner (p = .003, ∆R2 = .089). A piecewise regression revealed that participants were less likely to report consent communication cues as sexual precedent increased until about 575 previous sexual behaviors (p = .003, R2 = .122); after this point, participants were more likely to report consent communication cues as sexual precedent increased (p = .028, R2 = .179). Overall, we provide the first quantitative evidence that consent conceptualization varies both within the person and across relationships regarding sexual precedent. In our discussion, we emphasize that sexual consent is contextual and cannot be assumed even after previous sexual encounters.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Beres, M. A. (2007). ‘Spontaneous’ sexual consent: An analysis of sexual consent literature. Feminism and Psychology, 17, 93–108.

  2. Beres, M. (2010). Sexual miscommunication? Untangling assumptions about sexual communication between casual sex partners. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 12, 1–14.

  3. Beres, M. A. (2014). Rethinking the concept of consent for anti-sexual violence activism and education. Feminism and Psychology, 24, 373–389.

  4. Beres, M. A., Herold, E., & Maitland, S. B. (2004). Sexual consent behaviors in same-sex relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 475–486.

  5. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101.

  6. Burkett, M., & Hamilton, K. (2012). Postfeminist sexual agency: Young women’s negotiations of sexual consent. Sexualities, 15, 815–833.

  7. Byers, E. S., Henderson, J., & Hobson, K. M. (2009). University students’ definitions of sexual abstinence and having sex. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 665–674.

  8. Cohen, J., Cohen, P., West, S. G., & Aiken, L. S. (2003). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

  9. Cook, R. D. (1977). Detection of influential observation in linear regression. Technometrics, 19, 15–18.

  10. Dripps, D. (1996). For a negative, normative model of consent, with a comment on preference-skepticism. Legal Theory, 2, 113–120.

  11. Foubert, J. D., Garner, D. N., & Thaxter, P. J. (2006). An exploration of fraternity culture: Implications for programs to address alcohol-related sexual assault. College Student Journal, 40, 361–373.

  12. Hall, D. S. (1998). Consent for sexual behavior in a college student population. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 1, 1–16. Retrieved from

  13. Hickman, S. E., & Muehlenhard, C. L. (1999). “By the semi-mystical appearance of a condom”: How young women and men communicate sexual consent in heterosexual situations. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 258–272.

  14. Humphreys, T. (2007). Perceptions of sexual consent: The impact of relationship history and gender. Journal of Sex Research, 44, 307–315.

  15. Humphreys, T. P., & Brousseau, M. M. (2010). The Sexual Consent Scale–Revised: Development, reliability, and preliminary validity. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 420–428.

  16. Humphreys, T., & Herold, E. (2007). Sexual consent in heterosexual relationships: Development of a new measure. Sex Roles, 57, 305–315.

  17. Jessup, G., Bian, S., Chen, Y. W., & Bundy, A. C. (2012). Manual of P.I.E.L. survey application [iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad/iPad mini Application]. Sydney: The University of Sydney.

  18. Jozkowski, K. N. (2015). Barriers to affirmative consent policies and the need for affirmative sexuality. University of the Pacific Law Review, 47, 741–772.

  19. Jozkowski, K. N., & Peterson, Z. D. (2013). College students and sexual consent: Unique insights. Journal of Sex Research, 50, 517–523.

  20. Jozkowski, K. N., Peterson, Z. D., Sanders, S. A., Dennis, B., & Reece, M. (2014a). Gender differences in heterosexual college students’ conceptualizations and indicators of sexual consent: Implications for contemporary sexual assault prevention education. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 904–916.

  21. Jozkowski, K. N., Sanders, S., Peterson, Z. D., Dennis, B., & Reece, M. (2014b). Consenting to sexual activity: The development and psychometric assessment of dual measures of consent. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 437–450.

  22. Jozkowski, K. N., & Wiersma, J. D. (2015). Does drinking alcohol prior to sexual activity influence college students’ consent? International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 156–174.

  23. Katz, J., & Moore, J. (2013). Bystander education training for campus sexual assault prevention: An initial meta-analysis. Violence and Victims, 28, 1054–1067.

  24. Livingston, J. A., Buddie, A. M., Testa, M., & VanZile-Tamsen, C. (2004). The role of sexual precedence in verbal sexual coercion. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28, 287–297.

  25. Marcantonio, T., Jozkowski, K. N., & Wiersma-Mosley, J. (2018). The influence of partner status and sexual behavior on college women’s consent communication and feelings. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.

  26. Marsh, L. C., & Cormier, D. R. (2001). Spline regression models. Sage University Papers Series on Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences, 7, 1–75.

  27. McHugh, M. L. (2012). Interrater reliability: The kappa statistic. Biochemia Medica, 22, 276–282.

  28. Monson, C. M., Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J., & Binderup, T. (2000). Does “no” really mean “no” after you say “yes”? Attributions about date and marital rape. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 15, 1156–1174.

  29. Muehlenhard, C. L., Humphreys, T. P., Jozkowski, K. N., & Peterson, Z. D. (2016). The complexities of sexual consent among college students: A conceptual and empirical review. Journal of Sex Research, 53, 457–487.

  30. Muehlenhard, C. L., & Peterson, Z. D. (2005). Wanting and not wanting sex: The missing discourse of ambivalence. Feminism and Psychology, 15, 15–20.

  31. Neuendorf, K. A. (2011). Content analysis: A methodological primer for gender research. Sex Roles, 64, 276–289.

  32. Peterson, Z. D., & Muehlenhard, C. L. (2007). Conceptualizing the “wantedness” of women’s consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences: Implications for how women label their experiences with rape. Journal of Sex Research, 44, 72–88.

  33. Sanders, S. A., Hill, B. J., Yarber, W. L., Graham, C. A., Crosby, R. A., & Milhausen, R. R. (2010). Misclassification bias: Diversity in conceptualisations about having ‘had sex’. Sexual Health, 7, 31–34.

  34. Sanders, S. A., & Reinisch, J. M. (1999). Would you say you “had sex” if…? Journal of the American Medical Association, 281, 275–277.

  35. Satinsky, S., & Jozkowski, K. N. (2015). Female sexual subjectivity and verbal consent to receiving oral sex. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 41, 413–426.

  36. Shotland, R. L., & Goodstein, L. (1992). Sexual precedence reduces the perceived legitimacy of sexual refusal: An examination of attributions concerning date rape and consensual sex. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18, 756–764.

Download references


This study was funded, in part, by the Doug Kirby Adolescent Sexual Health Research Grant from the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, Indiana University of Public Health-Bloomington.

Author information

Correspondence to Malachi Willis.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Willis, M., Jozkowski, K.N. Sexual Precedent’s Effect on Sexual Consent Communication. Arch Sex Behav 48, 1723–1734 (2019).

Download citation


  • Sexual consent
  • Sexual precedent
  • Communication